Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

You can listen to this sermon here.

He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This is the thesis statement, the core truth of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A study of this epistle will reveal Jesus as the answer to life. 

Nearly every New Testament letter from Paul was written to combat heresy in one or more local churches; Ephesians is the exception. While Colossians doesn’t specify what heresy had infected that church, one can almost hear the whispers, “Jesus is not enough.” Many think an early form of Gnosticism was emerging. What makes this epistle so vital for life in the church in this age, until Christ returns, is the glorious picture of our Lord Jesus is painted in words by the apostle. It is instructive for us to see the evil distractions from the gospel the enemy put into the church in Paul’s day, but it is essential for life and godliness that we grasp the gospel and the person of Christ as held forth in Scripture. In this short letter, the lord Jesus is presented as our life – quite a contrast to our drab routine; something that ought to bring renewed life to weary saints.

This introduction follows the commentary by John Kitchens and covers 5 questions we should answer:

  1. Who wrote this letter?
  2. To whom was it written?
  3. What were the circumstances?
  4. Why did Paul write it?
  5. What does this letter teach us?
  6. This first topic is important but not vital. We who believe in the inspiration of Scripture know the dual-authorship of the Bible and know God is the Author of what His people wrote. Yet knowing the human author helps us when we can learn about him through other passages. This is particularly helpful in rightly understanding Proverbs, for example.

Nobody questioned Paul’s authorship of this epistle until a few 19th century scholars offered up an alternative. The first two verses seem pretty clear to us: Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But some smart people, as men see them, said the vocabulary, theology, and style of writing is too different from Paul’s other letters; that Paul works against Gnosticism which was not fully developed until the 2nd century. None of these objections stand up in light of a basic understanding of the Bible. Liberals seem to have it as their goal to cause us to doubt the Word of God.

  1. Written to the saints in Colossae, a town that had been prominent but was now bypassed by the major highway that had driven its commerce; not unlike Gowen or Hartshorne – both of which were prosperous in the mid-20th century as goal mining and defense electronics provided a large bounty of gainful employment. The region Colossae is in was also severely affected by an earthquake, and commerce went with the new highway to Laodicea and Hierapolis. We see in 2:1 that, at the time of this epistle, Paul had not been to Colossae or Laodicea: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. What kindness of God, to have this apostle write to these people in a small neglected town he had never met, yet loved in Christ having been told of the work the Lord had been doing in their midst.

Most likely, Epaphrus had established this church, as we read in 4:12-13 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Paul’s confidence was not in his personal work, but in the work done through him and others by the Spirit of God.

One thought occurred to me –apostles were foundational to the New Covenant church (see Eph 2:20) yet most of them wrote no Scripture and are not mentioned much by those who did. Men who labor in obscurity, in man’s perspective, always are in view of our heavenly Father. Our service to one another is pleasing in His sight, even if we are not famous among men; as it is His Spirit that wills and equips us to do so. Let us never drift away from seeking God’s approval in favor of man’s.

  1. The circumstances surrounding this letter are two-fold: temporal and spiritual. Paul was in prison, we see this in chapter 4 where Paul describes himself as in bonds (twice) and a fellow prisoner with Aristarchus. We know Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years (see Acts 24:24-27) but we do not see him having an open, on-going evangelical ministry. There is no record of Paul being in prison in Ephesus. Yet while in confinement in Rome, we read of a vibrant ministry, wherein he likely wrote this epistle and the letters to Philippi, Ephesus, and Philemon. Acts 28:30-31 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. As I mentioned Wed evening, I think this circumstance is illustrative of the current status of Satan – where the angel cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (Revelation 20:3). Locked up, but having an active influence through many of his minions.

The spiritual circumstances are more interesting and relevant to us. Like many of the first century churches, Colossae was a mixture of Gentile and Jewish saints. This is why he emphasized the new man in Christ, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:10-11) Neither group had a problem accepting people like themselves, but each group needed reminders by a brother that each of them had been individually bought and re-created (spiritually) by Christ Jesus; that cultural and ethnic identities that divide people of the world have no place in the church, the body of Christ.

Each of the groups that comprised the church in Colossae brought some of their spiritual baggage from their previous lives into this new creation. We see this in the concern shown in 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. And verse 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. This lack of learning does not refer to base ignorance – Peter and John caused the council to marvel. The unlearned description was affixed to these fishermen because they spoke in the manner of the common man, rather than in the highly polished rhetoric that was common in public speakers in that day – such as Paul met at Mars Hill in Acts 17. I think this philosophy and vain deceit mentioned here refers to this same manner of puffed-up speaking, which Paul spoke against in his first letter to Corinth. The traditions of men no doubt refers to what we see in Matthew 15:1-2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. These practices appeal to our human desire to follow rules and be well thought of but they are dangerous if imposed as necessary for being reconciled to God.

  1. This brings us to the reason Paul wrote this letter: doctrine impacts life, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). When saints believe wrongly on essential doctrines, our lives profane the savior and we lead others astray, serving as stumbling blocks instead of faithful servants.

There are three categories of error addressed in this epistle:

  1. Legalism, seen in 2:16-17
  2. False spirituality, seen in 2:18-19
  3. Asceticism, seen in 2:20-23

The corrective plan from Paul is not complex – have a right view of the Savior and of self. If our view of God is too low, our view of man will be too high. These three seriously wrong doctrines will fall of their own weight with a proper understanding of how sinful man is reconciled to holy God. And while we see warnings of error in this letter, the consistent theme woven throughout is to rightly comprehend the Lord Jesus and to daily fix our mind’s eye on Him.

  1. That, then, is what this letter teaches us – the same thing Paul was teaching the saints in the small backwater town of Colossae: Christ is enough; His grace is sufficient; we are safe in the strong tower of our God and King.

Listen to how Christ Jesus is described in this letter: He is called “Christ” (which means anointed one) 18 times; He is Christ Jesus the Lord; God’s beloved Son; the mystery of God; in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is the image of the invisible God; the creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the church; in Him the fullness of God dwells; Jesus is the soil in which we rooted and built up in; He is the substance and fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes which were portrayed in the ancient Jewish religion. Christ sits at the right hand of God, indicating the completion of His work; He is our refuge and our life; He is our goal and pattern for life; our teacher and our wisdom; He is our inheritance. He is our master, having freed us from the domain of master sin.

Kitchens says, “He is the origin of all creation (He is before all things); the sphere of all creation (by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities); the agent of creation (all things have been created … by Him); the goal of all creation (all things have been created … for Him); and the sustainer of all creation (in Him all things hold together). Indeed, He is the King of all creation (the firstborn of all creation).” Do you get the idea that Paul considered an accurate picture of Christ as vital to the health of the church? When we see the comprehensive nature of our Lord’s supremacy, it is hard to take in, and – perhaps – a little more understandable when people have too low a view of Him. But a right view of God is essential to a proper view of self – as Isaiah shows us when he saw Him on the throne. In summing up the glorious unity the saints have, Paul said Christ is all and in all – all that we have as children of God is found in Jesus; and by His Spirit, He dwells in every one of us.

This union we have with Christ Jesus is the core of our standing before God. We who are in Christ have died with Him (Colossians 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.); we were buried with Him (Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism); and made alive with Him (Colossians 2:12 wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.). And He is our life (Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.) This is guaranteed and made possible by His Spirit Who lives within us.

We have a new identity, in Christ Jesus. We have a new presence, Christ in us. We will walk and live, more and more, to grow in grace and knowledge of Him Who gave Himself for us. We don’t need programs and fancy facilities. We have God’s great and precious promises, all of which are summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ Who gave Himself as a ransom for helpless sinners. Find rest in Christ Jesus; find peace with God, now and forever, in Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. That’s the gospel truth. It’s all we have; and that’s all poor sinners need. And it’s always good for the souls of the saints!

Job – A Story About the Sovereignty of God

You can listen to this sermon here.

What follows it the first part.

(Background – from ESV Study Bible) The story of Job has its setting outside Israel to the east and south (Uz is related to Edom, which may be the setting of the book), the author of Job is a Hebrew, thoroughly immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures. The time in which the account of Job is set is not known with precision – many consider the context of Job’s culture and put him in the time of Abraham.

The earliest reference to Job outside the book itself is in Ezekiel. The prophet names three paragons of virtue (chap 14:12 – 14): And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” It is not certain whether Ezekiel knew of these men from the biblical narrative or if his knowledge was from God. If Ezekiel knew of Job through the biblical book, then Job would have lived prior to the Babylonian exile.

The author of Job makes direct allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 8:4; cf. Job 7:17–18), and at times quotes lines directly (Ps. 107:40; Isa. 41:20; cf. Job 12:21, 24). Such precise repetition of phrases and reapplication of biblical thought indicates that Job had access to these writings, though again it cannot be certain in what form they existed. The author uses a lot of vocabulary with meanings known in later Hebrew. This does not confirm a more precise dating but may favor a date that is during or after the Babylonian exile (538 BC). It would appear that this book may have been written as many as 600 years after Job lived – not without precedent in Scripture, as Moses wrote Genesis some 2,700 years after Creation. None of this is cause for worry, as it is God Who is the primary author of all Scripture.

The book of Job asks the question – “Can God be trusted?” It is fair to say that most of our attention is on Job and his loss and the rough treatment received at the hands of his friends and wife. But the lesson we are to gain from this book is found in the reply from God; that He alone can be trusted, that He alone is creator and sovereign – He is God and He is not obligated to answer His creatures! This maddens those who deny His existence or sovereignty, but ought to comfort us who are redeemed by Christ. If God is not sovereign over all things, He cannot be trusted in anything.

The book sets out from the beginning to show that the reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to human beings, yet under the rule of God. Indeed, Job’s sufferings come upon him because God taunted Satan in the heavenly courts, leaving us to wonder who Satan would have tormented if God had not suggested Job.  We are not given insight to this “behind the scenes” discussion that led up to a similar testing in the New Testament. Luke 22:31 – 32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Unlike Job, Peter knows before and why he was tested, we never learn whether the events of Job chapter 1 & 2 were explained to Job. In both accounts, God’s focus is on His character and position as the sovereign Lord Who cares for His people.

God’s Fulfilled Promise

In anticipation of the Christmas season, we’ve reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us and how it was all in accord with God’s promise. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;

And the government will rest on His shoulders;

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:6)

The incarnation of all God is was born to us as one of us.

Jesus was not born into a vacuum, with no connection to the people or culture into which He came as man. That passage from Isaiah 9 tells us Israel had been looking for their promised Messiah for a long, long time. The faithful prophets reminded the nation of promises made when Adam rebelled (Gen 3:15) and when Abraham was called (Gen 12, 15, & 17); and their sordid track record of disobedience and punishment for breaking the covenant given them on Mt Sinai gave them plenty of cause to be anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of that promised seed. Malachi had told them YHWH would send a messenger to prepare the way for the Messiah. He would come suddenly into His temple, bringing the new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah.

But Malachi also warned unbelieving Israel of the judgement that would come “against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me, says the LORD of Hosts. (Malachi 3:5) But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye. (Malachi 3:2) This warning was of judgment was balanced with the promise, which for Israel, was contingent on their faithful obedience to their Old Covenant. “Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:4-6)

More than 400 years had transpired since the last prophet had spoken to Israel – most of them had grown comfortable in their empty religion and did not recognize their Messiah when He came. They had forgotten the warnings of judgment and curses for disobedience. Their complacency caused them to not recognize the prophet we know as John. They had lapsed into the fatal conclusion that their flawed attempts at law-keeping coupled with their fleshly connection to Abraham would bring them peace with God. But we read in Romans 3, Galatians 2, Acts 13 that no flesh can be justified – made right with God – by the law, even though the law and the prophets bear witness the righteousness of God that is through faith in Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). The promised Messiah would redeem Israel – just not the same Israel the Jews thought nor by the method they thought.

Gal 4:4 tells us Jesus was born under the Law of Moses to redeem those who were under the Law. The Law-giver became the Law-keeper to redeem Law-breakers. The genealogy given us in Matthew takes great pain to show that, according to the flesh, Jesus came from Abraham and David. Being connected to Abraham connected Jesus to the salvation of Jews and Gentiles – all the nations of the world. Being connected to David connects Jesus to the throne that will never be overthrown, which we see in Luke 1:32-33 as the angel of the Lord told Mary Who her child was: He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Yet most of the Jews living in the time Jesus walked the earth knew Him not, other than as Joseph’s son. The comfort they had under the boot of Roman rule reminds me of that experience they had as slaves to Pharaoh. When Moses led them out to freedom, towards the promised land, they left the certainty of slavery for the uncertainty of liberty; and they berated Moses for leading them out. Now, under Roman rule, they would demand Jesus be crucified rather than be led out of slavery for liberty; desiring the fleeting comforts under Rome to the eternal liberty found only in the promised seed.

What does this mean to us who are not Jewish? We are what they called Gentiles. Read the gospels and see how national Israel looked down on Gentiles as less than dogs. Yet when one Jewish priest who had been faithfully waiting and looking for the promised Messiah laid his aged eyes on the baby Joseph and Mary had brought to the temple to be circumcised according to the law of Moses, Simeon broke out in song:

Luke 2:29-32 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Born as a Jew under the Law of that nation, to save those in bondage to that heavy burden. But, as promised to father Abraham, He also came as a blessing to many nations (Gen 12:1-3), the father to many nations (Gen 17:1-7), with descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen 15:5). Paul was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) and Peter was given a divine revelation (Acts 10:11) that Gentiles were not unclean but were to be evangelized. And in Acts 13:47 he tells the Jews and Gentiles, Acts 13:47, quoting from Isaiah 42 &49 that this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

Jesus, the promised seed, the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God that takes away sin – not just from Jewish sinners, but from sinners throughout the world. This is Who was born to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem so long ago. This the child Who learned obedience to His earthly parents so no charge of law-breaking could be laid at His feet. This is the Man Who drank the cup of wrath due us so we could be sons and daughters of God.

He did not come to this earth, humiliating Himself to take our form upon Himself, so that we would have our best life now. His mission was not to be adored as a baby each year, forgotten in the rush of presents and lavish meals and the crush of family and friends. He was not crushed so we could live unto ourselves as if that was our highest purpose.

Jesus came to earth as a human being for one reason – to reconcile helpless sinners to holy God and restore creation to a glory surpassing what it had when God spoke it into existence. All to bring glory to the name that is above all names and submit all things whether thrones or principalities under His feet.

When we gather this day and tomorrow with friends and family, will your excitement be only and all about the gifts, the looks on the children’s faces, your favorite food, the black sheep of the family? While all those were given for our benefit and are good if received with thanksgiving (even the black sheep), none of them nor all of them are why Jesus came.

If you celebrate the birth of Christ, make the day all about Him. Make sure your friends and family hear from you why He came and what His reason was.

Jesus, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:6-11)

Merry Christmas just doesn’t seem to do justice to the incarnation of God the Son. This phrase is on the lips of untold numbers of people who do not know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. If this season doesn’t bring joy to your soul because you haven’t been converted from a natural sinner to a supernatural child of God, His Word for you this day is to believe on the Lord Jesus. Jesus came to save sinners and has done all that is required for each lost sheep to be fully restored to fellowship with Creator God.

Christ’s richest blessings are bestowed on all the children of God. Jesus came to bring life – the abundant life that being reconciled to almighty God brings to those who love Him. He has gone to prepare a place for us and He is coming back to take us there. If these great and very precious promises from the faithful witness do not get you excited about telling others how they can be called friends of God, something more than “merry Christmas” is needed. And in Christ, we have all we need. The pearl of great price has been revealed, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed. Herald this news as you gather with family and friends, be a peace-maker the likes of which Santa cannot be.

God’s Faithful Promise

You can listen to this sermon here.

In anticipation of the Christmas season, last week we reviewed the biblical account for why Jesus had to come as a man to save us. We are by nature in desperate need of a savior, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:12); Christ Jesus is the only One Who can save us, reconcile helpless sinners to God – He is our peace!

Today, we review the biblical account of God’s faithful promise to provide this savior.

Several decades back, a Christian para-church organization took the nation by storm. Promise Keepers filled football stadiums with hundreds of thousands of men, listening to preaching and singing hymns. Many of those who went wanted to be better men, men who would keep their promises to lead their families rightly and walk in obedience to God. And for several years, many men were redeemed, revived, and reconciled. But the leaders of this ministry were found to be much less than their public facades portrayed. The founder confessed that he was a miserable failure and his right hand man drifted into gross theological error. And many critics and men who benefited from this ministry turned aside and followed them no more.

We read in the Scriptures that God is not like man, that He should lie (Numbers 23:19); so a promise made by God is something more sure than any promise man can make. God warns man that it’s better for us not to make a promise or vow than to make one and not keep it (Eccl 5:5 & 6). The gap between the two – creature and Creator – in keeping promises is as great as the gap between us in character. Our confidence must therefore be in God and Christ Jesus (He is the faithful witness – Rev 1:5), for they are faithful and rock-solid, while we are weak and fickle. With this reminder, let us see the awesome power of the One Who can make a promise and is certain to keep it.

The birth of Jesus and His work of redemption was not a reaction to the creature’s faithlessness. We see this in 1 Peter 1:20 & 21 – He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the times for you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. The Fall was not unplanned; the redemption found in Christ was not a reaction. Since man’s fall was inevitable, due to our weak frame, God determined before the world was created that the Son would redeem sinners and bring many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). The main reason creation exists is to glorify the Creator. Again we turn to Peter – If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11) The first phrase shows us how the man who preaches must not speak as a mere man with an opinion, but as a man who stands in fear of God to proclaim and preach the Word of God. Next we see that all who serve in any capacity are to do so recognizing it is God who gives such gifts. Lastly we see the reason – that in all things, preaching and serving, God will be glorified. And this glory is possible because we are in Christ Jesus. The oracles of God tell us Jesus is the focus of Scripture (Luke 24:27), promised to us before the world began (Titus 1:2).

Man’s Fallen Condition

This is the sermon I preached this morning. Will see if the saints at Cambria embrace the truth.

Christmas is coming. People who know Jesus and those who merely know the name will be making much of Dec 25th, although their reasons differ widely. The person and cross of Christ continues to divide history and implies there’s a problem. 

We hear evidence of it every time a police siren howls. The priceless sacrifice of the Son of God makes no sense if there’s no need. The question we must address is, what is the problem that requires this act? Humanists and politicians will tell you that man is intrinsically good – all he needs is a good education and good examples. The politicians need to say this because it makes people feel good about themselves and it creates demands for their services – education and public service announcements. Humanists are the unrighteous people Paul wrote about in Romans 1 who suppress their knowledge of the truth by their unrighteousness. The Bible tells us what the problem is – man has rebelled against Holy God and is by nature at war with God (Rom 5:10) and spiritually dead (Eph 2:1), hurtling towards physical death (Rom 6:23).

We see this played out in front of us on the TV news all the time. Someone does something outright horrible and none of their family or neighbors could accept the news. It’s the same virtually every time. The murderers amongst us seem so normal. The mother whose adult son is arrested cannot admit he would do such a thing. Yet every day these normal sons and daughters demonstrate the Word of God to be true – man is, by nature, hostile towards God and sinfully wicked in his fleshly desires.

The Apostle summed this up for the fine folks in Corinth: For as by a man came deathin Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and Rome: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned … death reigned from Adam to Moses … many died through one man’s trespass … the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation …because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one manone trespass led to condemnation for all menby the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners… (Romans 5:12-19).

You can listen to this sermon here.

Sermon: False teachers.

In this sermon, Pastor Mike Butler teaches from 2 Peter 2:1-3 covering the characteristics and conduct of false teachers, and ultimately, their condemnation.

Pastor Butler also pulls no punches when he calls out Redding, California’s Bethel Church and longtime celebrity leader/teacher/pastor John Piper. This kind of boldness in warning the sheep about specific hirelings is desperately needed in the church today.

You can download Pastor Butler’s sermon, entitled False Teachers, here.

(Part two of this message can be downloaded here.)

The Danger of Presuppositions

The Danger of Presuppositions

The Sabbath before the command, a sermon by Voddie Baucham

reviewed and analyzed by Stuart Brogden

This review is not intended to malign or condemn my dear brother and friend, Voddie thBaucham; it is to expose the errors one can be led to if presuppositions are left unexamined, if documents other than Scripture are held too tightly. This sermon sums up much of what caused me to withdraw from Grace family Baptist Church; it violates many of the basic rules of hermeneutics that Voddie taught me, apparently having his view distorted by his “confessionally colored glasses” as Bob Gonzales put it.

To the sermon, which can be listened to here:

Early in this sermon, Voddie asserts “Israel mirrors New Covenant people.” This is fundamental to the message of this sermon, but is it true? A mirror is intended to give an accurate image of the object, as when Scripture says Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) and He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1:3). Israel, however, is NOT a mirror image of the church which was purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus. Israel was a type, a shadow – providing a useful but imperfect image of the antitype, the church (Hebrews 8:1 – 6). They were a mixed seed of mostly unregenerate people. While the local church will have wheat and chaff growing side-by-side until the reaping (Matt 34:31; Rev 14:15), the universal church is pure and undefiled in any way (Eph 5:27). This cannot be said about Israel; it is NOT a mirror of God’s redeemed people. But it’s important for Voddie’s entire message that we agree that we are Israel (as he points out later), because the Scriptures tell us that the covenant was made with Israel and the words written on the stone tablets testify of that covenant (Ex 34:27 & 28). Moses emphasizes (Deut 5:2 & 3) this covenant was made with national Israel, not the patriarchs. And not – by implication – with Adam or the redeemed. As we will see, if Israel is not a mirror of the church, this message fails.

Still early in the sermon we are told, “Understanding the Sabbath is one of the most important junctures in our theology.” I agree with him on this. It will be apparent, however, I do not agree with his understanding of the Sabbath. Then he says, “Is it 8 of 10 or 9 of 10 who deny a Sabbath commandment?” It’s clear he simply made up this number, apparently to demonstrate the pitiable condition of the apathetic saints who disagree with him. Before getting into the substance of his argument, I am compelled to point out a subtle but glaring aspect of his repeated description of non-Sabbatarian Christians as those who deny or do not believe in a Sabbath command. Speaking for myself, I do not deny that the Bible has a Sabbath command. I believe in the Sabbath command. I simply look to the Scripture to inform me as to the subjects of this – and other commands. I deny that the Sabbath Command is binding for people in the New Covenant. I openly agree that it IS binding on those in the Mosaic Covenant, but not all men universally. By phrasing it as if we deny that the Bible commands some people to keep the Sabbath, Voddie implies though we cut objectionable parts from our Bibles. It is more likely, as we will see, that sabbatarians add parts to the Bible – reminding me of an author who describes dispensationalists as people of the invisible Scripture. Voddie taught me to tackle the best argument of those I disagreed with, as any victory over a weak argument would be meaningless. He appears to have forgotten this counsel, as this sermon engages only weak (or made up) positions.

One of the main tenents of his argument is that the Decalogue, as a unit, is equal to God’s moral law. This is not explained or defended from Scripture. As his beloved Second London Baptist Confession states in chapter 19, paragraph 3 (referring to the tablets of stone mentioned in paragraph 2), “Besides this law, commonly called moral …” and not one single verse is referenced. As one author I recently ran across observed, when theologians don’t have a biblical defense for something they assert, they use phrases such as “commonly called”. This is an appeal to a false authority – a logical fallacy. This is another aspect of preaching Voddie taught me – do not fall into the use of logical fallacies to make your point. Doing so lessens the authority of the message.

Therefore, he concludes, as a moral law, the Sabbath is binding on all people. From this position, He mocks 7th day Sabbatarians, whom he describes as 1 of the 10 who don’t get “truth” as he defines it. Another 10 percent hold to the idea of a “Christian Sabbath”; the remaining 8 of 10, a huge majority of Christians, deny the “Christian Sabbath” and are unable to explain why. Voddie is well aware of scholarly works by credible Christians who provide solid biblical defense for why the Sabbath is for Israel and not the Christian. D.A. Carson’s From Sabbath to Lord’s Day and Terrence O’Hare’s The Sabbath Complete are two such books that I know he is aware of. Is it sophistry to assert that, in general, all those Christians who deny the “Christian Sabbath” cannot explain why they hold that position. I betcha 9 of 10, or maybe 10 of 10 people who believe the Decalogue equals God’s moral law cannot explain it from Scripture. This is because Scripture does not define “moral law” nor does it equate that concept to the Decalogue. That correlation is simply not found there. That’s why the Westminster and Second London Baptist Confessions say the Law given Moses is “commonly called” the moral law. This is a concept originally put down on paper by Thomas Aquinas, the same one who developed the triad view of the Mosaic Law.

Baucham makes the interesting observation that since the Sabbath command was introduced in Exodus 16, chronologically before the law was given to Moses, and because it is allegedly rooted and grounded in a creation ordinance, it transcends the Decalogue. This is a double assertion based on his confessional presuppositions, not found in Scripture. When YHWH instructs the infant Hebrew nation about the Sabbath, using manna as the object, it is clear they were not familiar with the Sabbath, it was something new to them. This is the first record of the Sabbath in Scripture. It is another argument from silence to claim the Sabbath was known, kept and enforced from creation. The mention of the 7th day in the Decalogue does not establish a creation ordinance; it is given by God as an example for Israel to help them understand His command to rest from their work. John Calvin, John Gill, and John Bunyan each held a high view of the Lord’s Day, but dismissed and argued against the idea of a Sabbath creation ordinance. Circumcision was part of the Mosaic Covenant given before the Decalogue – does it also transcend the Decalogue and bind all people?

Voddie asserts that the 7th day of creation sets the pattern for work and worship. He later calls this God’s rhythm for life. I completely agree that YHWH was demonstrating for us our need for rest from work in sanctifying the 7th day of creation to Himself, as a minimum. Since all creation and the gift of work were soon to be cursed by the Fall, I also see the 7th day rest pointing to the One Who will do away with the ravages of sin and provide true and eternal rest for weary souls. Scripture tells us that God gave the Sabbath to the Hebrew people through Moses:

You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them impartial ordinances, reliable instructions, and good statutes and commands.  You revealed Your holy Sabbath to them, and gave them commands, statutes, and instruction through Your servant Moses.  You provided bread from heaven for their hunger; You brought them water from the rock for their thirst. You told them to go in and possess the land You had sworn to give them. Nehemiah 9:13-15 (HCSB)

YHWH gave the Sabbath to Israel as part of the ordinances, instructions, statutes, and commands, through His servant Moses. When Nehemiah continues on to describe YHWH’s kind provision in the desert, giving the Sabbath command to them is not listed. But taking the command in Exodus 16 into account, we can be sure YHWH taught and revealed His Sabbath to Israel at that time – but it was not given as the sign of the Mosaic Covenant until Sinai. There was a Sabbath before the commandment. It began as a teaching of the concept to the Hebrew people, not as a continuation of something they knew for generations since Adam taught Seth. In Exodus 16, when Israel is rebuked for trying to gather manna on the Sabbath, God tells them the Sabbath is to be kept by the families staying in their homes. There is no corporate worship, nothing standing as a type for the “Christian Sabbath”.

Voddie tells us, “Whenever you see Israel messin’ up – stop and insert yourself. That is you and me before we came to God. Forget generalities – this is you and me.” Again, the notion that Israel is a mirror of New Covenant saints shows up and seems innocuous. Voddie also taught me to be careful about inserting self into a Scripture passage, often using Jeremiah 29:11 to teach this. It appears he forgot this lesson. While all Scripture, including Exodus 16, is for our edification (1 Cor 10:6; Rom 15:4), not all Scripture can be applied directly to us. Israel is typological of all sinners, but that is NOT the same as saying you and I are Israel in this passage. Being less than careful in this matter can lead to serious errors – as when people drink poison and handle snakes by inserting themselves into Mark 16:17 & 18.

He quotes Ian Campbell from Why Easter makes me a Sabbatarian. This is an interesting article, easily found on the Internet, providing a defense of the Westminster Confession’s view of the “Christian Sabbath”. Despite Campbell’s assertion to the contrary, the pre-command for Sabbath-keeping in Exodus 16 is given only to Israel, not all people; same as the Decalogue. Nothing in the context of either scene comes remotely close to including Gentiles. Voddie admits the Decalogue summarizes the Mosaic Covenant, yet declares “the Sabbath was not just for Israel.” His continued conflating God’s moral law with the Decalogue leads him to impose the Decalogue universally. “If the Decalogue is a communication of God’s righteousness, then everyone is responsible for upholding it.” If by upholding it Voddie means we are bound by it (as the 1689 says), then he will run into myriad problems throughout the Bible as God’s righteousness is revealed and communicated in ways that even Christian Sabbatarians would not claim. The crime and punishment of Achan in Judges 7 comes to mind.

If everyone is required by God to keep His Sabbath, why is the only record of the Decalogue we have contained in the monologues by Moses, communicating this law (the summary of the Mosaic Covenant) to that people? If it was commonly practiced from creation, why is there no Biblical record of anyone other than Israelites being instructed about the Sabbath or punished for violating it? There is plenty of punishment meted out on people for murder, theft, idolatry, etc., before the Decalogue is published, giving warrant to the notion that there is a moral law at work in all humanity. Yet nowhere in Scripture is the Sabbath held up in this light; it is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. The tripartite view of Mosaic Law is difficult to demonstrate, as when we try to separate moral law from ceremonial in Leviticus we see they are interwoven everywhere one looks. Principals of moral law and ceremonial and civil law are there to learn from; but they are not neatly defined and set aside (sanctified) as separate records.

Voddie claims Sabbatarians are the only people who see all men responsible before God for keeping His law. Others say man must voluntarily enter into covenant with God to be held accountable. This is another logical fallacy – the Excluded Middle: assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. Are Sabbatarians the only ones who embrace God’s sovereignty and monergistic work of justification, and the Christian’s responsibility to pursue godliness? Reading from Luke 6, wherein Jesus makes the claim He is the Lord of the Sabbath, Voddie asks, “would Jesus claim to be Lord of something that was abolished?” What if the Sabbath is by design a type of the rest we find in Christ as He redeems us? We are told to rest in the Lord (Psalm 37:7) and are invited by the Lord Jesus to find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28 – 29). If He gives us spiritual rest when we come to Him in faith (which He graciously gives His elect), is He not, in this way, continuing as Lord of the Sabbath? No one enters into His rest unbidden by Him – He is Lord of the Sabbath! Jesus does not promise the pale imitation of the rest provided for by temporal respite; He gives the eternal rest that can be found nowhere else. Baucham then runs to Hebrews 4:9 to claim THAT as a Sabbath – the weekly “Christian Sabbath.” For each of the types spoken of in Hebrews 3 & 4, the Spirit recounts how the infant nation of Israel failed to enter His rest in Canaan because of unbelief (Heb 3:7 – 19), how we who do believe enter that rest (not in Canaan, but in Christ; Heb 4:3), and He speaks, again, how Creator God rested from that work on the seventh day (Greek word hebdomos, #G1442; Heb 4:4), and how the (spiritual) rest promised to those who believe is different than the (temporal) rest Joshua promised (Heb 4:8). Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10 (HCSB)) This rest, sabbatismos (Greek word G4520) is used nowhere else; it is found only in verse 9. If it were to be a weekly Sabbath, we would expect to see sabbaton (Greek word G4521) which is used 68 times in the New Testament, overwhelmingly to describe the Jewish Sabbath. If the temporal rest Joshua sought was singular occurrence and the rest from creation was a singular occurrence, why would the rest believers gain when we are adopted by God be a weekly event, rather than a singular, ongoing rest in the finished redemptive work of Christ Jesus? The Jewish Sabbath was a pale ceremonial rest from work to demonstrate their trust in YHWH, not an instruction to develop corporate worship. As a command to rest from that work which provided food for themselves and their families, the Jewish Sabbath serves a wonderful type for Christians – to rest from that work which seems to earn God’s favor and find true rest in the finished work of Jesus, the antitype; not a weekly spiritual respite.

Where does the Sabbath command include worship? This question is never asked nor answered in this sermon. One might think it central to the idea that the command to rest from work had been changed not only in the day in which it is to be observed, but as to its practice. We are to assume worship is commanded; Voddie does, and then strains to accommodate the change in day: “The commandment is 1 day in 7, not the 7th day.” This is simply not true. If it were true, each tribe of Israel could have established their own day of the week to honor the Sabbath given by God as a sign of the covenant. We know they did not do so. The commandment is “the 7th day”; the example from creation is “the 7th day.” Exodus 20:9-10 (HCSB) You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. From Strong’s Hebrew dictionary: Number 7637, shebîʿâ, is found 98 times in the KJV and means “seventh” 96 times, “seventh time” once, and “seven” once. Since this word is used myriad times to describe the Jewish Sabbath (there being no other kind in Scripture), how could it mean any day in a given week? Our English translations (NIV, NASB, ESV, HCSB, KJV, and many others) all say “the seventh day.” I didn’t find a commentary written by men in either camp who interpret this word as “one day in seven;” they universally interpret it “the seventh day.” And as with creation, the day after the sixth day is specified as the day of rest, not worship. But Voddie says “8 out 10 Christians do not believe that there is a Sabbath command … this means that going to church is optional.”

In truth, we see clearly a Sabbath command; we don’t see it given to anyone other than national Israel and we don’t see it commanding worship. There’s a HUGE difference! Voddie continues to portray only two extremes – you believe in the “Christian Sabbath” or you believe worshiping God with His people is not important. This is another example of the Excluded Middle fallacy. There are many Christians who understand the Sabbath command to be a sign of the Mosaic Covenant and yet eagerly and willingly participate in regular corporate worship with the saints. People indwelt by the Spirit of God will increasingly desire to please Him and will not degrade into the slouches Voddie posits as the end of all who neglect his idea of Sabbath keeping. Being burdened by a law from the Mosaic Covenant will not transform them. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) was emphatic on this point:

some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!” (verse 5) … Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? (verse 10)

In this comparison between the Christian Sabbatarian position and those who do not agree with it, Voddie lumps all non-sabbatarians in with Ed Young’s horrible Easter Sunday extravaganza. “This command, which has been place since the creation of the world…” Again, there is no record of any Sabbath command or Sabbath keeping until Israel was instructed in Exodus 16. Law against murder is clearly in view, for example – yet NOTHING about Sabbath until the Exodus. There is no command or instruction to move the Sabbath to the 8th day. Christian gatherings on the 8th day (prayer, praise, preaching, and fellowship of the saints) have no connection to the commandment – which was to stay in your house and rest from your work. The false contrasts continues.  He states that only Sabbatarians give the Lord every Sunday, and everyone else only Easter. Voddie heavily expounds, “the timeless command observed by us on this day speaks volumes.” And “As God’s people, this is what God commands of us” – to gather twice as much manna on Friday so we won’t gather on the Sabbath. “But if you believe there is an obligation for God to be worshiped on this day, ‘but you do whatever to rid yourself of the guilt of playing sports on Sunday’ … is the day His or is it not?” “That’s the question – is the day His or is it not? We cannot embrace the blessing of the Sabbath without embracing the fact that it is a command.” He implies the “Christian Sabbath” is the only means by which saints can gather and participate in the ordinary means of grace our Lord has given us.

A long quote from B.B. Warfield’s sermon on the “Christian Sabbath”, pressing the command and obligation of the Sabbath, with no exegesis to show how this command is binding on Christians as is claimed. Voddie touts the notion that we must be commanded to worship each week because the world does not see its need to worship God – sounding just like Walter Chantry’s pragmatic plea to keep the Sabbath as a means of redeeming the culture (Call the Sabbath a Delight). Paraphrase: ‘Only if you get the “Christian Sabbath” as a command do you get the blessing God intends for you in this day.’ How ‘bout this, as an alternative: Jesus kept the law of Moses and the prophets, not just the Decalogue. He earned the right to be our lamb who takes away sin. We find the blessing of our rest in Him and His finished work.

He laments, ‘Failure to attend church regularly will cause your soul to shrivel. Failure to give God this day is to your great harm and detriment.’ Again – Christians want to gather and worship our Lord; the command does not command worship.

‘What does the Sabbath teaching in Exodus 16 tell us about Israel and us? First, it was commanded and very specific. Gather twice the bread on the 6th day … As the people of God, this is what God commands us. Again, 8 of 10 Christians do not believe the Sabbath command means they think going to church is optional.’ I agree with Voddie that we who claim Christ must trust Him to provide for us and not view work as an ends to be pursued to the detriment of our souls. This principle is taught us by the Sabbath command given the Hebrews. This is how types are interpreted, discerning the way they apply to us, rather than assuming equivalence.

“Ancient writers wrote about how extraordinary Israel was where in 1 day out of 7 everything stopped.” He doesn’t tell us the name of one of these ancient writers, but the official record of Israel’s history, the Scriptures, tell us Israel routinely profaned God’s Sabbath command and were punished many times (Ezek 20 & 22 for example). “This 1 day in 7 set them apart inwardly.” FAIL! Only the Spirit of God can do this! He presumes equivalence between “the Lord’s Day” and the “Christian Sabbath” and assigns spiritual blessings to Christians for keeping of the Law of Moses – which the Apostles declared a burden no man could bear.

“This is the day when we let everything else stop!” And yet – Voddie has repeatedly taught that it’s OK for people to enjoy sports and recreation on Sunday as long as it does not conflict with church. The Christian values the community of faith on Sunday, but meets with God every day. It’s not just the 8th day that is God’s – every day is. Our Sabbath rest is found in our Savior, not in a shadowy ceremonial type that was fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord.

FINALLY he tells us our day of rest is the rest we find in Christ (IAW Heb 4:9, perhaps?); but it’s still only a weakly (no misspelling!) rest for Voddie, rather than the ever increasing rest we enjoy as He sanctifies us. “He gives you six days – do you not believe He can multiply your bread on the 6th?” We mostly work 5 days in this country and ought to trust in our provider more than our employer – but that work is as much as ordinary means of grace as any other provided for us.

Voddie condescendingly dismisses rules for Sabbath keeping, pointing to Exodus 16:23 – claiming they were permitted to cook the manna on the 7th day, just not permitted to gather (the text does not say they were permitted to cook manna on the 7th day). Therefore, he declares, there are no lists for what it means to keep the Sabbath! But what says the Scripture? There we find many rules for Sabbath keeping – not only those made up by the religious rulers.  Exodus 31:15 (death for working); 35:1 – 3 (which forbids kindling a fire); Numbers 15:32 – 36 (death for picking up wood); Leviticus 25 (describes the Sabbath Year – why do Christian Sabbatarians not practice this?); Numbers 28:9 – 10 (burnt offerings); 1 Chron 9:32 (bread of the presence); 2 Chron 23:8 (military guard); Neh 10:31 (showing the Sabbath applying to Israel, not others); Neh 13 (God’s wrath promised to come on Israel for their profaning the Sabbath); Jer 17(prohibition of bearing burdens). No rules for Sabbath keeping, no penalties for breaking those rules? No lists for what God means to keep His Sabbath? Contrary to what Voddie says, the biblical Sabbath has rules, penalties, and lists. If the “Christian Sabbath” he holds to does not, it does not bear witness to the Sabbath in Exodus 16 he is pressing upon his flock.

Voddie claims the typological aspect of the Sabbath comes into play after the first resurrection. It’s only a weak weekly observance until you die. He declares that the work of ministry is permitted on the Sabbath and then says his Sunday ministry (preaching) is not work – it’s worship. Preparation for preaching is work. Why, then, defend the work of ministry on the Sabbath if that is not work? A day off to rest his body is fine, but he will not dare call it a Sabbath, “because the Sabbath is the Lord’s Day, not mine.” Every day we live is the Lord’s Day, not ours – just as every good thing we have is a gift of God and not our own (1 Cor 4:7).

My dear brother gives us many good reminders about the value of Christians gathering for corporate worship – yet no exegesis showing how the 8th day is defined by the 4th word. He simply gives a naked assertion that the 4th word “goes all the way back to creation.” The Scriptures are silent on this topic in that era; it violates Sola Scriptura to teach that it does. No argument from me that to work six days and rest one is a God-given rhythm for life. The Sabbath command teaches this – it does not teach nor require worship. “This is what we must learn, saints – that God will give us 7 days of provision in 6 days of work.” IS THIS THE APPLICATION OF THE 4th WORD FOR CHRISTIANS? I rather treasure the surety of my soul! Just as God rested from His work of creation to show us a pattern for life and point us to the promised seed, Christ rested from His work of redemption to provide us an eternity of rest – rest that starts as soon as He redeems us and gets better every day until He returns to bring the ultimate glory to His name by recreating the heavens and earth and putting a final end to sin for His saints. That’s my Sabbath – the God-man who is Lord of the Sabbath, He bids me find my rest in Him.

To borrow from Kim Riddlebarger’s Reply to John MacArthur (located here:, This is hard to say, but in his sermon Pastor Baucham set up and repeatedly attacked a straw man.  His was a pyrrhic victory over a phantom foe.